airberlin bankcruptcy – the end of topbonus rewards program?

Last week airberlin declared bankcruptcy, after their largest shareholder Etihad suddenly stopped their financial contributions that had been confirmed in June to keep airberlin running for the next 18 months, while it’s going through a restructuring. Now, they have also stopped the accrual or redemption of topbonus miles, the rewards program of airberlin that is owned by Etihad and run as a separate company! Does that spell the end of the rewards program and what will happen do your rewards miles and flights?

The halt to the redemption and accrual of topbonus miles was announced via a message on the topbonus website:

At the same time, the website of airberlin itself was scrubbed of any links or reference to the topbonus program. Neither is good news if you are one of the more than 4 million members and have collected miles in the past! You can still access the topbonus information here!
While the topbonus team is promising to get back to members with an update soon, nothing has been forthcoming since the insolvency proceedings started. So, we’ll have to read the tea leaves for clues:
The current CEO of airberlin, Thomas Winkelmann, a former Lufthansa executive, made clear in a televised speech that the focus is on selling the routes, airport slots, planes and crews to new owners, with Lufthansa as the prime candidate. Negotiations with up to 10 other interested parties are ongoing. He stated that he does not expect the brand airberlin to be around for the long-term! 
German government representatives focused in their speeches on minimizing the disruption for travelers (hence the loan to continue operations) and on jobs for current airberlin employees (hence the objective to sell routes, planes and staff as a “package deal”)!
And airberlin corporate communications staff let slip, that Etihad has no interest in continuing the program – no surprise, as they have their own program, Etihad Guest, and no reason to continue the program of a defunct airline!

So, what does that mean for any rewards tickets you might hold? In the absence of any response from topbonus, I can only speculate:
If you hold a reward ticket for an airberlin flight in the next few weeks, you are likely to be able to fly as scheduled. airberlin management and German government representatives have repeatedly stated that the German government loan should allow airberlin to operate all flights as scheduled and honor any tickets previously issued. While the loan is supposed to last through the end of November (or until airberlin is sold off), the later your flight is the higher the risk.
If you hold a ticket for a flight operated by Etihad, an Etihad or OneWorld partner for this period, you have a chance that the ticket will be honored, assuming that airberlin will pay for those flights based on their agreements. 
If you hold a ticket after that time period for an airberlin flight, I’d expect that whoever purchases those routes will honor the previously issued tickets as a matter of continuity.
If you hold a ticket for the period after the dissolution of airberlin for a flight operated by a partner, it will depend on how topbonus is handled. Unless an investor takes over a rump airline and the program, I’d expect topbonus Ltd, the company running the program, to also declare insolvency, with tickets and miles becoming invalid. I have taken a look at the topbonus balance sheet and while I’m no accountant, there are not a lot of assets that would allow topbonus to continue after the insolvency of airberlin! Given that Etihad pulled the plug despite previous commitments to provide funding for 18 months, I can’t see them honor any tickets or miles past the dissolution of airberlin and I fear those miles and tickets will be lost. 

What should you do? If you hold a reward ticket between now and the end of November, you should hold on to the ticket and hope that the flight will go as scheduled. If it is an important and time-critical business or personal trip, I’d look for a back-up plan to ensure you are able to travel as planned, in case your topbonus ticket becomes invalid.
I fall into this category with a reward ticket for flights on Etihad and airberlin in November. I will follow the news closely and will hold to my ticket. If there is indication that the ticket will not be honored, I’ll have to book an alternative flight (at a much higher cost) and will open a dispute with my (US) credit card company for the fees & taxes I paid for the ticket!
If you hold an award ticket that is further out or large quantities of topbonus miles, there is not much you can do other than wait and follow the news. Stay tuned, I will write updates here as I find out more! 
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